The hottest recruiters in the nation? How James Franklin, Penn State got their mojo back

Frank Bodani
York Daily Record

Penn State's James Franklin publicly criticized his program's recruiting efforts last summer.

Then his team suffered through its worst start in program history, and the team's first losing season in 16 years.

But since, the pandemic has eased and his highly touted coaching staff is finally stretching its legs and meeting high school stars in person again.

Penn State's James Franklin has re-energized his track record as one of the nation's most successful recruiters with this 2022 class.

And just like that, the Nittany Lions seem to have their mojo back.

By the end of this week, no team in the nation will have more verbal commitments from incoming high school seniors than Penn State.

Only one team will be ranked higher with this 2022 recruiting class.

Now, Franklin and his staff just need to hold together what should be his most impressive recruiting effort since arriving in State College.

Never before have the Lions all but filled one recruiting class. And now they can concentrate almost exclusively on the next cycle before August.

"It's been the importance of getting (high school) players back on campus, and not just because it's State College and a rural school. It's more because of James Franklin and who he is from a character perspective and what he’s all about," said Ryan Snyder, a recruiting analyst with Blue-White Illustrated and

"He really sells well with family and players. He's incredibly active during visits. Recruits never expect to spend the amount of time with Franklin that they get. Just how much Franklin impacts recruiting during visits ..."

Unofficially, Penn State will have its 2022 class nearly filled with 24 commitments before Aug. 1, if all goes as planned. Texas receiver/safety Cristian Driver expects to make his verbal pledge known Thursday, and Maryland safety K.J. Winston expects to do the same Saturday.

The Lions seem to be leading big for both. 

Though recruiting classes have been traditionally capped at 25 players per cycle, the Lions may be able to squeeze in a couple of extra recruits, if warranted, as long as their scholarship numbers stay in line with NCAA rules. For example, recruits who enroll early in college can be counted in the previous class to make room for extra signees in the current one.

For sure, July appears to be Penn State's most prolific recruiting month, possibly in school history. They will have scored 12 verbal commitments this month for the 2022 class (if Driver and Winston join) as well as the nation's top interior offensive lineman in Virginia's Alex Birchmeier for the 2023 class.

All of this has helped Penn State lock in the No. 2 recruiting ranking nationally with a little less than five months to go before the first national signing day. Only Ohio State has a better rating from major recruiting sites like Rivals and 247Sports.

Penn State's top recruiting finish under Franklin was No. 6 in 2018, a class featuring Harrisburg linebacker Micah Parsons. This current group does expect to eventually drop a bit, numbers-wise, when recruiting powers like Alabama, LSU and Oklahoma garner more commitments and catch up.

"You can argue this is the best (Penn State) class ever," Snyder said, highlighting its depth and high potential beyond the biggest names. "When we look back on this class it may be best James Franklin has ever assembled."

Even with space tight, the Lions still seem highly interested in landing another linebacker (Baltimore's Jaishawn Barham or Glenside, Pa.'s Abdul Carter) and another receiver (Virginia's Andre Greene, Jr. or Oregon's Darrius Clemons).

Defensive lineman Alex VanSumeren (Michigan) and offensive tackles Andre Roye (Baltimore) and Aamil Wagner (Ohio) also may still be in play.

The Lions have nearly five months to go before the first national signing day.

Here are the recent highlights of this bounce-back class: 

Fernandina Beach defensive back Cam Miller (1) pursues a play against First Coast during a high school spring football game on May 21, 2021. [Clayton Freeman/Florida Times-Union]

Defensive back run

The Lions may lock in four potential defensive backs in just the past two weeks.

It all started when Louisiana safety Jordan Allen committed to the Lions on July 17 — without ever visiting State College. The 3-star prospect was recruited hardest by the likes of Michigan, Miami, Tennessee, Mississippi and Indiana.

Three more defensive backs may come this week. Florida cornerback Cam Miller, a 4-star recruit, picked Penn State over Virginia Tech on Monday with safeties Driver and Winston expected to follow.

Driver is the son of former Green Bay Packers star receiver Donald Driver, who Franklin coached briefly in the NFL. The two have maintained a close friendship.

Cristian Driver (6-foot, 180) may begin his college career at receiver, though. His other scholarship schools of interest include Alabama, Arizona, Michigan and Texas A&M.

Winston is a top prospect from DeMatha High in Hyattsville, Md. 

Dani Dennis-Sutton

He's the top-rated player in this class and a must-get star in the making from Maryland.

Penn State won out for his services over Alabama and Georgia and so continued its pipeline to the powerhouse McDonogh School in Owings Mills. Current Lion defenders PJ Mustipher, D'von Ellies and Curtis Jacobs are all grads.

Dennis-Sutton is a 6-foot-5, 250-pound defensive end and pass-rushing expert, drawing comparisons to former Penn State star Yetur Gross-Matos. Dennis-Sutton is rated as the nation's No. 1 strong-side defensive end and No. 11 overall recruit by Rivals and the No. 64 overall recruit by  247Sports Composite scale.

Photo: 247 Sports

Nick Singleton and Kaytron Allen

The Lions' already stacked running back room pulled off one of the toughest chores: Landing two more Top 10 backs in the same class.

Singleton is regarded as the top offensive player in Pennsylvania and possibly the top all-around running back in the nation. The Lions desperately needed his pledge after missing on most elite recruits in the state last year.

Allen, meanwhile, appears to be the perfect compliment as a bit bigger and more powerful back at 220 pounds heading into his senior year of high school. He's from Virginia but now plays for the ultra-powerful IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida.

These commitments highlight the impressive recruiting and development work done by position coach JaJuan Seider. The Lions already boast a running back room that's five-strong, led by former IMG star Noah Cain.

Frank Bodani covers Penn State football for the York Daily Record and USA Today Network. Contact him at and follow him on Twitter @YDRPennState.